Playdates are a rite of passage for kids — and parents — especially when they are old enough to get dropped off. Or when you are ready to host, and yes, that means your house might get torn to bits, but that also means your kids are hopefully out of your hair and off playing with their besties. But playdates also require some planning and having what might seem like awkward conversations that get less awkward the more you have them. No playdate is worth it if children are unsafe and uncomfortable. Here are 11 playdate questions to ask beforehand to ensure your child has fun, is safe, and comes home with their little friendship cup filled.
1. Who Will Be Home Watching the Kids?
There’s a chance you met and clicked with a Mom at preschool pickup, but when the playdate happens, she’s at work, and Dad is home instead. That’s great too, but this playdate question is essential because you should meet Dad and get a feel for how he parents. If he’s in his home office on work calls all day and doesn’t plan on checking in with the kids, this playdate is probably a no-go. Or if both parents aren’t home but are used to leaving their younger child in the care of their 14-year-old daughter, that’s a super system for them, but are you okay with it? There are lots of level-headed, responsible 14-year-olds out there, and some who should not be watching young kids. Make sure you know who will be home the entire playdate and who will have eyes on your precious little one.
2. Who Else Will Be in the House During the Playdate?
This is another crucial playdate question that covers several bases. First, maybe the host lives with an elderly grandparent. Or perhaps you’re the one hosting, and you have older kids who will be playing video games in the basement. You’ll try to keep the little ones away from them, but you might want to give the mom at drop-off the heads up. Most of my third child’s friends happen to be the oldest, so they have little experience around teenagers. When they come to my house, they might run into my 14-year-old, about to enter high school. To help parents feel more comfortable, I usually offer that information and remain open to any questions they have about any or all of my kids.
This also lets parents know if other kids are also attending the playdate. Their child may not do well with large groups or struggle to get along with a specific child, and if that child is going to be there, they might want to reschedule. Talking about everyone — kids, adults, siblings — who will be in the home is a way to keep all kids safe as they play.
3. Will There Be Food, and Do Any Children Attending Have Allergies?
This is a big one in our house as an “allergy mom” to a child who cannot have peanuts or dairy. Although he’s 10 now and can advocate for himself and read labels, it’s helpful to ask before dropping him off so I can provide alternative snacks. If the mom hosting the playdate plans a big ice cream sundae party in the backyard later, he can’t participate, and I don’t want him to feel sad or her to feel guilty that she planned something he couldn’t enjoy. And this is vital to allergy kids’ overall safety as the host should know what to do if a child ingests or is exposed to an allergen, like administering epinephrine, giving the child Benadryl, or calling 911.
This question also covers other food issues like whether a mom allows their children to have food dye or processed foods. If you plan on tossing some freezer pops and sodas outside when you’re hosting (that’s what my house looks like a lot in the summer!), another mom might send her kid with an alternative option. We all do things our way.
4. Do Children Attending Have Medical or Special Needs?
We are good friends with a family whose 10-year-old son struggles with large groups and intense noises. However, he still likes to participate — he just separates himself for some independent time to decompress as a form of self-regulation. That information is good because a parent who sees a kid sitting alone might think something is wrong and need to intervene. But really, this child is fine and will rejoin the group when he’s ready.
Other topics like asthma, diabetes, hypoglycemia, hemophilia, allergies to bees, etc., should be addressed pre-playdate so the adult in charge has all the necessary information and can keep kids safe.
5. Are There Weapons in the Home, and Are They Stored Safely?
I live in a big hunting state — more people have guns than not. I attended a workshop on gun safety, and the speaker suggested that parents open with the playdate question, “Are your guns stored safely?” rather than even asking if there are guns in the home. She suggested we operate assuming all houses have guns as a safety precaution.
If a parent says their guns are “hidden,” that’s not “stored safely.” Kids are curious, play hide-and-seek, and find guns in drawers, on top of dressers, or under the bed. The only option for a safe playdate is if guns are locked in a safe or cabinet that children cannot access.
6. What Activities Will Be Available for Kids?
First and foremost, find out if there’s a pool, pond, or lake. If your kid is an excellent swimmer and you’re 100% comfortable with that, great! If there is a water source and your child is not a safe swimmer, you need to talk that over with the host and find out if a grownup will be watching the entire time. And, if you’re hosting and planning on letting kids swim, make sure parents know your plans. Also, you should find out the children’s swimming abilities before allowing everyone to jump in.
Other fun activities in our house usually include jumping on the trampoline, playing street hockey, or engaging in Nerf gun battles. These are all typical kids’ activities, but parents should have a general idea of what the children plan to do during the playdate so they can prepare their children and ensure they’ll be as safe as possible.
7. What Are the Screen Time Rules and Expectations?
Especially in the summer, we generally say “no screen time” when my youngest has friends over. They’re all 10, and we have a pool, a trampoline, scooters, bikes, Wiffle ball gear, street hockey gear, a basketball hoop, soccer balls and nets, and lacrosse gear. And they don’t fight us. They run around outside until they’re sweaty and exhausted, and it’s perfect. My oldest, however, often ends up in the basement playing video games with friends, and I’m okay with that too. It depends on a few factors, like the kids who come over, their age, and the weather.
However, if my 10-year-old son plays Fortnite at a friend’s house, it doesn’t bother me. Screens are a part of kids’ lives; to me, it’s not worth the fight. I know my children get plenty of exercise and sunshine, so if they zone out on video games at a playdate now and then, so be it. But I know that not every parent agrees with that sentiment, so asking this playdate question about rules and expectations regarding video games, YouTube, and other screen time is an important conversation.
8. Are There Any Pets in the Home?
We have a 60-pound puppy who is not yet two years old. He’s loveable and friendly and has never been aggressive, but he sometimes jumps on people (we’re working on it!), which can be overwhelming when a child meets him for the first time. I always give new friends that information before arriving to prepare them.
Asking about pets is essential, especially if your child has any allergies or fears of a specific animal that could prevent them from feeling safe and comfortable. If the house your child is going to has big dogs, for example, you might ask what breed they are and some follow-up questions like whether they are trained, if they’ve been aggressive, and if they’ll be around the children. If you feel it’s necessary, ask to see the dog(s) before you leave to see how they interact with kids.
9. What Are the Drop-Off and Pickup Procedures?
This one is just common sense, but it’s good to clarify to avoid confusion. Who is dropping off? Who is picking up? And at what time? Maybe Mom dropped off, but Grandma is picking up. Clarifying this beforehand avoids that awkward situation where the host has an extra child she didn’t plan on having all afternoon because one parent didn’t know they were picking up at 2 p.m.
Also, this conversation is essential when children are still in booster seats and car seats, as whoever is driving needs all the necessary items and might need to borrow a booster or car seat to bring the child home later.
10. How Should You Contact the Parents?
Most parents exchange cellphone numbers, but if a parent is heading to work after drop-off and their work number is a better way of reaching them, that should also be provided. Also, if there was an emergency and Mom left her phone in the car, or Dad lost cellphone service, provide a backup number too. You never know when someone might sprain an ankle or start puking, ending the playdate, and you’ll need to make phone calls quickly.
11. What Should Your Child Do If They Feel Unsafe?
Pre-playdate questions aren’t always for the parents. One crucial discussion with our children is what to do if they feel unsafe or comfortable. In our family, we tell our children a few things. First, our young son, who doesn’t have a phone yet, can always say, “I have a stomachache. Can I please call my mom?” and I will answer and come get him. He knows my phone number and his dad’s number by heart, so he can always reach one of us. Second, for my kids who do have phones, we have a code they can always text me to alert me they need to get out of a situation.
Walking the line between letting our kids play, having fun, and being kids while keeping them safe is challenging and exhausting. But asking a few playdate questions of the host or the parents dropping off can alleviate a lot of worry for moms and dads who want their children to play with friends but also want them to come home. Empowering our children to advocate for themselves and get themselves out of unsafe and uncomfortable situations is essential. But we should never be afraid to ask questions and encourage our kids to do the same so everyone can play, be safe, and make core childhood memories that will last a lifetime.